Darwin - reunion with friends and working on a mango farm

Sunday October 4th 2009 - Tuesday October 27th 2009

Our time in Darwin was spent reuniting with old friends from our Melbourne hostel. Apparently most people that come to Darwin stay in the same hostel - Frogshollow Backpackers - so every morning you see lots of familiar faces that you didn't think you'd see again. Darwin tends to be the last stop for a lot of people before they fly home so we spent time reuniting and then saying good-bye again as everyone from our road trip and other friends flew back home since their visas were up. Kelsey went off to Asia for some travelling and meeting up with her friend, Ciaran flew back home to Ireland to prepare for his PHD starting in November and the only ones left from our road trip were Steve, Tyler and myself. Steve is still trying to sell the car, but is living and working in Darwin in the meantime to save some money before leaving Australia and doing a bit of travelling before going home.

We did a lot of job hunting only to find that the agency that works for the Harvest Trail doesn't actually get a lot of business and they were telling us that the mango season hadn't started yet, but we knew it started weeks ago. Not many people in the area go through the agency. We spent a lot of time in the water since it's so hot in Darwin, and a lot of time in the air conditioned library looking for jobs and phone numbers to contact for farm jobs. Very frustrating! In the end we got a phone number from a French girl in our hostel who got another job while she was laid off from her mango farm for 2 weeks and now they had called her back to work so she was trying to find replacements.

Enter me and Tyler. We called the farm the next day and they wanted us to start immediately. Luckily we had Steve to drive us to Humpty Doo (a nearby little town) and we got a little lost but managed to find the plot of land that was our mango farm. It was run by a Chinese couple (Mr and Mrs Siah) and they showcased the free accomodation in little bunkers that had air conditioning. We were so happy! We had a crash course in mango packing and were just left to work things out ourselves and get to work with a team of 4 other workers. Some days the machine would be at maximum speed and the bins would be close to overflowing, but Mrs Siah liked to work us hard and we did pick up the pace. It was good work, we probably ate our weight in mangoes and papayas (so delicious) and we had tons of hours (we worked 86 hours in 7 days). The work was hard and we were sore every night - very stiff fingers and thumbs from making boxes and sore backs from lifting for 12-13 hours a day. Everything was going great, we even got a day off after working for 14 days.

Then there was an overflooding of the mango market as all the crates of mangoes got shipped on the same day from all the farms in the area and there weren't enough places to buy them. About 60 skids arrived in Melbourne at the same time - too many! We were let go from the job since they weren't making enough money from selling the mangoes so we were dropped off in Darwin and set about on the job hunt again. We are not happy campers.

The Great Road Trip through Southern Australia, the red centre and the Northern Territory

Monday September 14th 2009 - Day 1

Not much to report for this day, we left around noon and ended up camping in a rest area because it got dark very fast. Drove through highlights of the Great Ocean Road since Steve (our main driver and the person whose car it was) had never been. London Bridge is still standing, guess the recent falling bit wasn't as major as I had thought. Finally got to see the 12 Apostles without cloud, fog or rain so that was a bonus. :)

Tuesday September 15th 2009 - Day 2

Camped at Coorong National Park and met a German woman riding a push bike across Australia. Very inspiring. We saw a creepy millipede/scorpion insect but thankfully it wasn't vicious. And we had an illegal fire in the park but it was so nice and helped us stay up later than we usually do while camping. And we didn't get caught. Hurray!

Wednesday September 16th 2009 - Day 3

Made our way to southern Australia, we had to eat all of our fruit and vegetables right before the border as they have very strict rules about taking them over state lines due to fruit flies.

Drove to Adelaide, had lunch out in a sandwich bar to save time. We were mostly shopping for supplies and using internet in Adelaide. It wasn't a very long stopover. I had wanted to meet up with my penpal who lives there but it was too short notice and would have been awkward holding everyone up so I just left it alone. Hopefully we get to stop by there another time for a visit. We made it to the Barossa Valley, one of the famous wine regions in southern Australia. And we camped there overnight in order to do a tour of the wineries the next day.

Thursday September 17th 2009 - Day 4

Rented bikes from our campground in order to tour the wineries. The bikes weren't in the best condition but we made do with them. Ciaran had the brilliant idea that we wouldn't waste any of our time by eating lunch in between our tour of the wineries, we'd just eat around 3pm when we returned the bikes. And we didn't bring bags so we didn't have any water aside from the glasses you were allowed to pour at the winery itself. So let's just say that it didn't take very many samplings of wine to have us all drunk and trying to ride our bicycles in a straight line. Funny times. There was a minor bicycle collision which resulted in Tyler's bike breaking and we had to return it early. And we lost a key to one of the locks... but we never had to pay anything extra.

The people serving the wine got a kick out of us and I think they gave us more than they should, but we're not complaining. We made it to 5 wineries total but the girls had to refrain from the last winery as we knew we were at our limit and couldn't stop giggling. We had lunch at 6pm and slowly recovered from the wine. Definitely should have brought lunch with us. Lesson learned. But still a fun time.

Friday September 18th 2009 - Day 5

Made it to Flinders Ranges National Park. There were tons of emus, kangaroos and wallabies when we first arrived and were driving to the free bush camping ground. It was a beautiful national park but got there at night time so the hikes were saved for the next day.

Saturday September 19th 2009 - Day 6

We stayed in Flinders Ranges on this day as well. We hiked around Wilpena Pound, the famous sight in the national park. It was a 4 hour return hike and very beautiful from up high looking around at the surroundings. Ciaran was in heaven because the place was full of lizards, but there were no snakes to be seen (we think it was too cold for them). We ate tuna sandwiches at the top and took in the beautiful views. We started the trend of taking group photos on timers at the same time and this carried on for the rest of the road trip and resulting in some injured cameras that fell from great heights due to the wind. Luckily our camera is quite fat and proved very durable and the wind just couldn't blow it over.

Sunday September 20th 2009 - Day 7

We drove towards Coober Pedy but only made it to Maree by nightfall. It was nice to have a cold beer, our first in a week. The camping ground also had a very cute dog that I ended up playing catch with. Adorable! The wind was pretty bad that night and actually blew the fly off Kelsey's tent and Ciaran got out of his own tent to fix it in the middle of the night. I got my worst sleep of the entire trip because of the constant flapping of our tent against the wind. But it was free so we can't complain.

Monday September 21st 2009 - Day 8

In the early morning Kelsey got teased for flirting with the coffee guy and this teasing continued for most of the trip. We visited a sculpture park on the way from Maree to William Creek, it was very cool to walk around and look at what different artists had created. They had made large sculptures with scrap metal and even cars and buses, look for photos posted on my Facebook. We also entered a dust storm once we arrived in William Creek. The one that you saw on the news that made it all the way to Sydney but we were definitely in the heart of it. We tried to get to Lake Ayre but couldn't see anything at the southern Lake Ayre. We plowed on to Coober Pedy and couldn't see anything on the road and had to constantly pull over and wait for the storm to calm down. We ended up camping underground once we made it to Coober Pedy at a camping ground called RIBA's. Kelsey destroyed a cactus while arguing with a very drunk Ciaran who finished all of our alcohol (wine, whiskey and port).

Tuesday, September 22nd 2009 - Day 9

It was our second day in Coober Pedy - the town known for having underground housing and lots of 0pals. The dust storm continued and was very intense. We went to the Didgeridoo cafe to relax in the early morning and ended up buying $6 coffees from a crazy but entertaining European man who kept saying "I make good coffee for you!". We also visited the underground Serbian church and went noodleing for opals in the middle of the dust storm. We came across a cool graveyard where one grave had a keg and wine bottles on it and the gravestone said 'This drink's on me'. Very clever. We ended the evening by watching the movie "The Wrestler" in the tv room on Tyler's laptop and scared away the families in the campground from the tv room due to the sex scenes. We made burgers for dinner and they were delicious.

Wednesday September 23rd 2009 - Day 10

We drove from Coober Pedy to Curtain Springs. Curtain Springs is a free camping ground about 100km away from Ayers Rock/Uluru. The dust storm finally finished. We stopped at the border but ignored the quarantine since we didn't want to get rid of our fruit and veg when there was little opportunity to shop in the Red Centre.

Thursday September 24th 2009 - Day 11

We visited the Olgas and did the Valley of the Winds walk. We also visited Ayers Rock and walked around the entire base, we were swarmed by flies and sweat buckets in the sun. We took photos of Uluru at sunset. We camped at Curtain Springs again. We were exhausted by teh time we got home but Ciaran plowed on and made dinner then we all just passed out super early from our full day of hiking.

Friday September 25th 2009 - Day 12

We woke up to car trouble, there was a gas leak. We relaxed around Curtain Springs campground and I had to fight the emu for my handwashed clothes as it kept trying to drink the soapy water and to eat the drawstrings on my trackpants. Kelsey made sound for lunch since we had a lot of time to kill and it was delicious. Steve managed to fix the car with some help from one of our neighbours in the caravan park. We made it to King's Creek station for the night/late afternoon. We only paid for 2 people and were paranoid at night about being caught by the ground owners.

Saturday September 26th 2009 - Day 13

We left by 6:30am and made it to King's Canyon. We did the rim walk and started at 7:30am and it was nice and cool at that time, a beautiful walk. We drove down a very sketchy road to see the Meteorite sight and then made it to Alice Springs and stayed in a YHA family room.

Sunday September 27th 2009 - Day 14

We relaxed in Alice Springs and had a big breakfast. We met an aboriginal man named David while eating our lunch in the park who tried to sell us his painting and shared our lunch with us. He started inviting all the other aborigines to join us and that's when we decided it was time to leave - we're generous but not that generous. We stayed at G'day Mate caravan park and tried the trick of only paying for 2 people again and it worked.

Monday September 28th 2009 - Day 15

We left Alice Springs and drove to Devil's Marbles and camped there. 2 aboriginal men gave a talk about their culture and the origins of Devil's Marbles and how it is cursed. There was no drinking water or any water at the campground but it was free.

Tuesday September 29th 2009 - Day 16

We walked around Devil's Marbles. Then we drove a long distance in the super hot car to Mataranka. We swam in the Thermal Springs and camped in Elsey National Park where there were tons of wallabies around and we saw a mama wallaby with a baby in it's pouch - so cute!

Wednesday September 30th 2009 - Day 17

We drove to Katherine. There were tons of wallabies on the road and we encountered one that had been hit seconds before we got there - it was very traumatic as it was in shock and hopping across the road spasming. The boys had to deal with it while Kelsey and I cried in the car dealing with the impact of seeing the hurt creature. Very traumatic for everyone involved. We swam in Kathering Hot Springs (very beautiful) and then the 1st level swimming lake but we got covered in baby leeches/worms and decided it was best to leave. We camped at Springvale Homestead but never paid. Steve managed to leave his cell phone there charging so we had to sneak back in the late evening to retrieve it - very tricky.

Thursday October 1st 2009 - Day 18

We rented canes and rowed the 1st, 2nd and 3rd gorges in the Katherine gorge for the full day - so fun! There was lots of swimming and no crocodiles. It was so hot that we no longer needed our sleeping bages or sheets at nighttime to sleep in. We also managed to lose the frisbee and Steve left his fliplops at the beach but some girl mistakenly wore his (we could tell by the duct tape used to hold them together) so he got his shoes back and the girl had none because Steve didn't wear any shoes back. We also briefly swam at Edith Falls despite croc signs since the campgro0und said it was safe. We camped at Edith Falls and Tyler successfully made bread using the campfire.

Friday October 2nd 2009 - Day 19

We arrived in Litchfield National Park. We visited Buley Rockhole, Wangi Falls, the Magnetic Termite Mounds and Florence Falls. We tried to find beer to drink but no success. We camped at Florence Falls 4WD campsite. There were no showers, lots of bugs, a full moon and bats flying across the sky. We had our last campfire and made baked potatoes.

Saturday October 3rd 2009 - Day 20

We swam at Buley Rockhole in the early morning to cool down before our long drive. We drove all the way to Darwin and arrived around noon. Finally in the big city - hurray! :)

Extended Return to Melbourne and Wilson's Promontory

Saturday September 5th 2009 - Sunday September 13th 2009

Thankfully I checked the receipt for our flight to Melbourne a few days in advance as I had written down in my notebook that we flew out on Sunday but it was actually the Saturday. Crisis averted. :)

We returned to Melbourne and stayed in our good ol' hostel Bev'n'Micks for the first night to catch up with everyone. We learned that not much had changed and a lot of the people who had left to travel elsewhere had come back for a short while. The old gang was back together. We weren't able to just pay for one bunk, so that was disappointing and part of the reason we only stayed there for 1 night. We were able to store out luggage there though and for the next few days we stayed with our friend Jess and her mom and boyfriend. We had met Jess on our Croatia boat tour. They spoiled us by cooking fantastic meals, giving us wine and letting us watch movies all day on their couch while they were out. Such nice hospitality. :)

We were only supposed to be in Melbourne until Tuesday but there were complications with the car and ordering parts and having other things fixed and we were delayed until the week-end so in order to make the most of it we decided to do a little road trip to Wilson's Promontory for 3 days, 2 nights. We rented a little mini car and crammed the 5 of us into it with all our gear. We looked hilarious but it prepared us for the big road trip in the 4wd Pagero (so much more space that it felt luxurious after our mini-car). Wilson's Prom was beautiful, did some great hikes and had great goals so we ended up hiking around 25-30km in a single day. That was exhausting! But we got to see Sealy Cove beach and it was spectacular. The prom is nice because you can see all the re-growth that's taking place as it had some pretty serious fire damage recently but it's already trying to recover. Some parts the trees are just black and decaying but they'll have little green sprouts growing up out of it. Amazing to see. It was also full of wombats, they are the cutest animals ever and can crush your skull with their muscular bums if you try to follow them into their burroughs.

Also to note, on the first night we left the passenger window all the way down and discovered in the morning that an animal had climbed into the car and eaten some bread and gnawed on our dark chocolate. Our main culprits are the birds (since they would gnaw on chocolate) or a possum that was at our campsite the next night sniffing around. He looked suspicious, like he knew we had food.... and the birds swarmed our site the next morning, so they were on to us as well. Perhaps they teamed up. But we learned our lesson and locked and closed everything after that event. :)

It was a great road trip - camping under the stars, eating camp food and lots of hiking and adventure.

We made our way back to Melbourne and were lucky enough to be able to stay with the nice hostel manager - Josh. Who lived just around the corner and was missing having company since his roommate moved to Brisbane. There was enough space for the 5 of us and we just relaxed and cooked him dinner and tried to keep the place tidy as repayment to him.

And finally by Sunday night the car was returned and we were all set to head out on Monday morning. It's about time!